Professional outlook still strong for Top 20 Nashville Predators prospects

By Tony Piscotta
Kevin Fiala - Nashville Predators

Photo: 2014 1st-round pick Kevin Fiala remains the Nashville Predators’ top prospect but carrying the worst plus-minus for the Milwaukee Admirals suggests he has work to do before becoming a trustworthy NHL player (courtesy of Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

 

The 2015-16 season has been an eventful one for the prospects in the Nashville Predators system. The top of the list remains largely intact but several players have either had breakout seasons or no longer seem to fit in the organization’s plans.

Kevin Fiala has had a season of fits and starts with the Milwaukee Admirals but his complete package keeps him in the top spot. Harvard senior Jimmy Vesey is one of the top players in college hockey and is considered NHL-ready and is in the second spot. Vladislav Kamenev, in his first season in North America with the Admirals, has made a smooth transition from wing to center and is third while goalie Juuse Saros has been as good as advertised with Milwaukee.

Left wing Viktor Arvidsson has shuttled between Nashville and Milwaukee in his second season in North America and is in the fifth spot.

Three players who have made big jumps since the fall are defensemen Jack Dougherty and Alexandre Carrier and Admirals’ leading scorer Max Gortz. Dougherty, the Predators’ top prospect on defense, appears to have his career back on track after going from the University of Wisconsin to the WHL‘s Portland Winterhawks. Carrier, a teammate of Trenin with the Olympiques, has been one of the top offensive defensemen in the QMJHL. Gortz, after briefly spending time with the ECHL‘s Cincinnati Cyclones, is one of Milwaukee’s leading scorers.

Center Yakov Trenin, the Predators’ first draft pick when he was taken in the second round last June, moves up to seventh and is the fourth-leading scorer for the Gatineau Olympiques.

Three players move into the Nashville Top 20 after missing the fall list: goalies Janne Juvonen (14th) and Karel Vejmelka (18th) and defenseman Trevor Murphy (20th).

On the other side of things, off-season free agent signee Steve Moses (15th in the fall poll) lasted just 16 games with Milwaukee before returning to the KHL. One-time New York Rangers’ prospect Conor Allen (17th in the fall) was traded to Ottawa in exchange for veteran Patrick Mullen in a swap of AHL defenseman.

Defenseman Jonathan-Ismael Diaby, selected in the same 2013 draft in which the Predators selected Seth Jones (20th), drops off the list after an injury-filled season. Diaby began the year in the ECHL with Cincinnati but suffered a deep cut from a skate blade in his upper thigh while playing for the Cyclones. He was recalled by the Admirals in January and suffered an upper-body injury. He has played just 22 games between the AHL and ECHL this season.

Two prospects who just missed the Top 20 but who are worth keeping an eye on are defenseman Petter Granberg and Admirals’ forward Frederick Gaudreau.

Granberg was claimed off waivers from the Maple Leafs at the end of November. A teammate of fellow Nashville prospect Johan Alm during their days in Sweden, the big defender missed 30 games after suffering an achilles injury while training over the summer. He has appeared in six games with Nashville and is vying with Anthony Bitetto for the final defense slot.

Gaudreau played 43 games for Milwaukee on an AHL deal last year and attended training camp with Nashville this year as a free agent. Steadily working his way up from a lower line role with the Admirals at the beginning of the year, he is now playing in all situations and in January was signed to a two-year entry-level NHL contract by the Predators.

20. (NR) Trevor Murphy, D, 7.0 D
Signed as Free Agent, September 2015

Murphy flew under the radar in the OHL despite leading the Windsor Spitfires in scoring as a defenseman in 2014-15, never being drafted. Invited to Nashville’s training camp as a free agent, he received an entry-level NHL contract and was assigned to Milwaukee. After a fast start his ice time dwindled as the Admirals added several minor league veterans but his skating game fits well with the Nashville philosophy. In a recent game Murphy was inserted into the lineup as a left wing due to injuries and had three goals and three assists in a 7-3 win over Bakersfield.

19. (16) Colton Sissons, C, 5.5B
Drafted 2nd round, 50th overall, 2012

Sissons has shuffled between the Predators and Milwaukee in his third pro season. The Admirals’ second-leading goal scorer to current Predators forward Austin Watson in 2015-16, he played a solid two-way role in a 19-game stint with Nashville. While he does not figure to be a scorer at the NHL level that he was in junior hockey and with the Admirals, he showed he is capable of handling a two-way role. The 22-year-old continues to develop but with several forward prospects in the Nashville system he faces long odds to earn a full-time spot.

18. (NR) Karel Vejmelka, G, 7.5D
Drafted 5th round, 145th overall, 2015

 Vejmelka is a big but unorthodox goalie from the Czech Republic with loads of potential. While he did not make the final roster for the Czech U20 team at the World Juniors the right-handed catching goalie has played in the Czech Extraliga as a 19-year-old and is having a strong season for SK Horacka Slavia in the Czech second league. The Predators organization is well-stocked in goalie prospects but Vejmelka appears to have a bright upside.

17. (18) Austin Watson, LW, 6.5B
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2010

Watson has skated in 38 of 54 games for Nashville in his first season with the Predators. After spending most of his first three pro seasons with the Admirals, the 23-year-old Michigan native has skated mostly in a lower line role and has shown limited offensive ability. Despite the ideal size and skating ability to do so, Watson does not play a particularly punishing game. He does have some offensive skill but will need to produce more consistently if he is to be more than a depth forward.

16. (10) Miikka Salomaki, LW, 6.5B
Drafted 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2011

Salomaki, like Watson, is in his first full season with the Predators and is also capable of playing all three forward spots. He does not possess the size of Watson but what makes the 22-year-old valuable is his ability to play in all situations and the willingness to use his skating speed to put pressure on opponents. An undisclosed injury in November kept him out of five games but when healthy he has been a valuable two-way presence in the Nashville lineup. As with most of the Predators’ forwards this season, he has struggled to produce points but the intangible parts of his game allow him to contribute when he’s not scoring.

15. (13) Tommy Novak, C, 7.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 85th overall, 2015

The book on Novak heading into his freshman season at the University of Minnesota was that he had loads of offensive ability and hockey intelligence but was not always consistent and didn’t always compete in tight areas. The 18-year-old is quieting many of his doubters in his first season with the Gophers. Often skating on a line with junior Hudson Fasching (BUF) and the undrafted Leon Bristedt, he is among the team leaders in assists and has played in every game for the Big 10 conference leaders.

14. (NR) Janne Juvonen, G, 7.5D
Drafted 7th round, 203rd overall, 2013

The Predators have made a habit of taking goaltenders late in the draft — Marek Mazanec (6th round, 2012), Anders Lindback (7th, 2008) and Pekka Rinne (8th, 2004) have all gone on to play in the NHL. It is too early to put Juvonen on that level but the 21-year-old has come into his own over the past two seasons. He appeared in a career-high 46 games last season and this year he has the Lahti club poised to make the Liiga playoffs for just the second time in the past five seasons. While his development has been overshadowed by that of Saros, who was selected in the fourth round in the same 2013 draft as Juvonen, he has the prototypical size and athleticism of an NHL goalie.

13. (19) Alexandre Carrier, D, 7.5D
Drafted 4th round, 115th overall, 2015

Carrier has been one of the QMJHL’s top offensive defensemen despite missing time in November after suffering a shoulder injury. Following a fast start in which he had points in the Olympiques’ first eight games he has been a bit streaky, but his play to this point has been a big part of Gatineau’s success. Carrier signed an entry-level contract with the Predators in November. He will likely need time at the minor league level to hone the positional parts of the game but his skating ability and skill set suggests he will fit in well on the Nashville blueline.

12. (6) Pontus Aberg, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 37th overall, 2012

Aberg has been a bit of a one-trick pony in his second season with the Admirals but when that trick is goal scoring that is a good one to have. Leading Milwaukee in goals with 13 in 46 games, the 21-year-old from Stockholm has a wealth of offensive tricks but his overall game remains a work in progress. He has just four assists on the year and must continue to address the supplementary areas of his game if he is to eventually crack the Nashville lineup.

11. (14) Anthony Richard, C, 7.5D
Drafted 4th round, 100th overall, 2014

The Predators have not been averse to signing undersized skill players — Murphy, Moses, Fiala, and Arvidsson are all 5’11” or smaller — and Richard fits that mix. Now in his fourth year with the Val-d’Or Foreurs, the Trois Rivieres native is tied with teammate Anthony Beauregard and Shawinigan’s Alexis D’Aoust for third in the QMJHL in scoring with 77 points in his first 50 games. The Foreurs have a dominant team, winning 40 of their first 52 games, and big scoring numbers are not uncommon in Quebec. But Richard signed an entry-level contract with Nashville in November and his combination of skill, scoring ability, and a high compete level suggests a bright future.

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